Batman: Arkham City Review

In 2009, if you had told me that a superhero game would win a game of the year award, I would have laughed in your face and told you to keep dreaming. But then it happened, in the form of one Batman: Arkham Asylum. It was a landmark title that stayed true to its source material without turning into a forgettable affair inside 20 minutes, built an amazing atmosphere that immersed players for hours and provided some of the better hand-to-hand combat mechanics we’ve seen in a game to date. Simply put, it was a pleasant surprise, and with Arkham City now on offer, one wonders whether it can live up to the benchmark set by its much loved predecessor…Lets find out!

Arkham Asylum is no more, with the local governance deciding it wise to instead annex off a part of Gotham City, place high walls around it and to let loose the residents of nearby prisons together in a single, large, heavily fortified facility named Arkham City. After announcing his displeasure with the idea, Bruce Wayne is subsequently tossed into the prison which happens to be controlled by Batman’s arch nemesis Hugo Strange and in which an all out civil war is raging amongst inmates as Penguin, Two-Face and Joker and their respective henchmen vie for control of the streets. None of these circumstances is conducive to a positive outcome for Gotham City though, so after donning his cape and armour, Batman sets off to quell the violence and stop Strange before things get out of hand.

Batman: Arkham City possesses the same combination of action-adventure, hand to hand combat, stealth and exploration that made the first title such a standout. The sequel however tries its hand on improving on the core mechanics of the original, with the biggest leap forward being the size of the environment. The game world has transformed from a small, constricted Metroid: Prime layout to a sandbox structure similar to something that wouldn’t be unexpected in an Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto title. Whilst the environment isn’t quite as large as the aforementioned games, Batman: Arkham City succeeds in fitting a large amount of environment into a relatively small amount of floor space by expanding the world much more vertically, allowing Batman to glide at a whim between buildings to get around.

The free flow combat that was so prevalent in Batman: Arkham Asylum returns in Arkham City and with an expanded assortment of combat moves and special abilities, quick use gadgetry and counter moves. The combat is more refined, controls much smoother than the original title and boasts a larger roster of sexy animations for all of Batman’s many attacking manoeuvres meaning the combat side of game play is just as enjoyable to watch as it is to play. Of course, towards the pointy end of the game combat really becomes a last resort and stealth mode sets in as the enemies Batman comes across become increasingly well armed with guns, shields, body armour and even Splinter Cell styled heat detection goggles. Thats alright though as Bat Brain gets a heavy helping of new bat toys and takedown moves to counteract the various enemy advantages.

To back up Batman’s combat skills, players have a range of gadgets at their disposal that enable exploration of the environment and mix things up a little in combat situations. In addition to the returning favourites such as the grappling hook, the line launcher, batarangs and explosive gel, Batman can now get his hands on ice grenades and a taser (amongst others) which are quite fun to experiment with. Detective mode also makes a comeback and is used in fancy new ways, from tracking the path of a bullet back to its source, to following a trail of trace chemicals to identify a serial killer, find weakened walls to open additional routes through the environment and to track enemy movements when Batman is doing his ‘Sneaky Pete’ stealth routine. Detective mode is a great mechanic and one that really adds to Batman’s detective mystique.

Your run of the mill sandbox game usually includes tedious side-missions placed strategically within the game world in order to give the player some extra content to break up the main story action. Batman: Arkham City breaks the mould here with some fantastic, mini-story driven side-missions, each with their own unique narrative and starring a few more of Gotham’s super-villains, providing players with real motivation to see them through to completion. Whether Batman is playing phone tag with Zsasz over victims, helping Bane track down and destroy the remaining titan formula from Arkham Asylum, to investigating a series of shootings by super assassin Deadshot and solving the seemingly endless number of Riddler’s challenges in order to free several kidnapped policemen from certain death these mini-narratives will draw the player in and keep them occupied well after the main campaign has finished.

Almost every action, whether it being besting your foes in bone crunching combat, solving one of the many Riddler puzzles or completing story/side missions will earn Batman experience points. These can be used to upgrade armour or to supplement his already burgeoning arsenal with new gadgets and combat moves, allowing combat and gadget usage to slowly evolve as players progress through the story.

Once the credits have rolled on Arkham City, there are a number of different bits and pieces included to keep players plugging away at the game. Upon completion, players will unlock a new game plus mode in which Batman can carry across all of his unlocked moves, upgrades and gadgets, but the enemies are given a health boost and are more heavily armed from the get go to add a little more challenge to proceedings the second time through. In addition, there are 400 Riddler puzzles to hunt out and solve which unlock a swathe of content, from 3d models of your favourite characters, to concept art and Riddler challenges, which are Arkham City’s equivalent of Arkham Asylum’s combat challenges complete with leader boards for the competitive amongst you to challenge your friends.

Arkham City is one of the most competent and fully realised cityscape environments in a game to date, with some gorgeous graphics and a meticulous eye for detail. It is a world that fits Batman like his well-oiled bat-suit and creates a palpable atmosphere that is dark, gloomy and filled with images of despair and violence that only the caped crusader can put an end to. It is also a world that rewards players for exploration with a large number of side-missions, collectibles and Easter eggs that the game itself urges you to track down to ensure you unlock everything.

The voice acting of the main protagonist and antagonists are excellent and the voice actors have very much embraced the characters to bring them to life quite convincingly. This is backed up with top class musical overlay that strikes all the right notes to perfectly suit the atmosphere and the various happenings on screen.

Arkham City, simply put is a master class in how to go about creating the perfect video game sequel. Rocksteady have created a Batman title that is bigger and better than its amazing predecessor and although the novelty of the game play mechanics has worn off slightly, the sandbox world more than makes up for any deficit. The addition of compelling side-quests and Easter eggs scattered throughout the city add reams to the broody atmosphere, the characters involved and to the world itself. With a great story, excellent combat and an abundance of content, Batman: Arkham City is by far the best comic-based game ever made and is among one of the best titles so far this generation.

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